Friday, February 25, 2011

Ireland votes today - tune in tomorrow for result

Way back when I lived in New York there used to be a television ad for a women's clothes store Annie Sez: "I haven't done it yet, but I'm dying to." That's how I feel today about voting. I haven't gone to the polling station yet, but I'm looking forward to getting there. From what I've heard in the reports on the radio, I'm not the only person in Ireland who is keen to cast a ballot today.

The polls are open until 10pm tonight (5pm EST), which means that those of you in America and Canada who are interested in the outcome of today's vote may expect the result before you sit down to dinner tonight. You can expect it all you want, but you won't be getting it.

The polls close at 10pm, but the counting of votes doesn't start until tomorrow morning Irish time. It will be a number of hours before any results start to come in, so you should contain your excitement until you have had your bagel and coffee tomorrow morning.

Our voting system is a bit antiquated, but I like it. If you're a politics junkie it's a great spectacle. The only real drawback is having to wait until the day after the vote for the excitement to start.

Ireland uses a proportional representation system with a single transferable vote. What this means to the voter is that you don't make a simple choice of one candidate, but that you rank the candidates in order of your preference. {If you want a detailed explanation - it's really complex and I have yet to read an explanation that hasn't had some comments taking issue with the explanation - go here.}

Even though that may sound straight forward, the implications are endless rounds of counting and recounting ballots as those with low totals are eliminated and second choices, then third choices, etc. on those ballots are then counted. The number of candidates on the ballot and to be elected varies by constituency. In Wicklow - where I live - there are 24 candidates seeking 5 seats in the parliament (Dáil).

From what I can determine, most people only rank their top two, three or four candidates. In the past I have ranked them all as I find it easier to know who least want to see win than who I want to win.

This process makes the pre-election polls a little less accurate as pollsters only ask about the Number 1 preferences, but the 2, 3 & 4 preferences are crucial. Very few candidates get enough first preferences to get elected in the first round.

All of the ballots are paper with pencil markings and all the counting is by hand, which is why it can take so long to get a result. It's all very low tech, but to the political junkie the coverage is compelling as experts pronounce on what will happen in transfers between candidates in the same party, across party lines and based on rural vs urban, the town or village the candidates come from.

Once the official numbers start coming in, they provide further analysis on trends, etc. It's amazing how riveting it can be as you listen to the various party representatives, journalists and academics talk excitedly about what neighborhood or hamlet a certain unopened ballot box comes from.

The show starts early tomorrow, but it won't really heat up until afternoon.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ireland: prisoners can vote, emigrants cannot

We are nearing the end of the election campaign (February 25) and, not surprisingly, the topic of emigration is featuring fairly high on the list of political issues. The various candidates are going to do this, that and the other to stop emigration or help those who have to emigrate. Of course, for those parties not in the outgoing government, the number of people having to leave the country makes for a handy stick with which to beat the current office-holders.

To any Irish people old enough, this is familiar territory. Emigration was a political issue in the 1950s and 1980s too and many of the same arguments and promises are being offered today. However, one twist is that this time there is an awareness that it is unjust that those who are forced to leave to find work cannot vote.

And they really cannot vote.

I always knew that there was no facility to enable emigrants to vote either with a postal vote or at embassies and consular offices, but I always believed that an emigrant could come home to vote if he or she wanted to do so. However, they cannot and to do so is actually to commit a crime, one that could entail a prison sentence if the emigrant was actually prosecuted and convicted for having the audacity to vote in their homeland.

An emigrant could be sent to prison for voting, which is ridiculous on two levels. First, the very idea that an Irish citizen who leaves home to provide a better life for themselves and/or their family should be punished for engaging in that most basic of civic rights is obscene. I can almost see the logic of not facilitating voting from overseas, but I cannot see why those few who might wish to go to the trouble and expense of returning to vote should be considered criminals for doing so.

Second, and even more bizarre, if a voting emigrant did end up in prison they would then be the only Irish person in prison who couldn't vote! Yes, prisoners in Ireland are allowed to vote - by mail. So there is a postal vote system for all sorts of people, including criminals, but not emigrants.

Get it? Murderers, rapists, bank-robbers, drug dealers, etc. can all vote if they find themselves doing hard time, but the poor old emigrant is denied that right. They're even denied the right if they're imprisoned for voting while living outside the state because a prisoner can only vote if he or she was "ordinarily resident in the State prior to his or her detention in prison."

It's an amazing state of affairs, one crying out to be corrected. I won't, however, hold my breath waiting for the new government to fix this because emigrants keen enough to want to vote probably have a real interest in returning to live in Ireland. So long as that desire goes unfulfilled they are unlikely to vote for the governing party(ies), which is why I fully expect that the incoming government will stall and prevaricate before dropping the whole idea.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

We should be tough enough to take Mayor Bloomberg's joke

The other night Mayor Bloomberg jokingly called us - Irish /Irish-Americans - a bunch of drunks. Some people were offended; some were outraged. As for me, I'll give him a pass. In fact, in some ways I admire his attempt at reasserting one of my favorite aspects of New York: the way two rival ethnic groups can respect each other and indulge in (understood) light-hearted stereotyping.

The context matters. The Mayor wasn't speaking at a press conference or even issuing an annoyed or angry off-the-cuff comment. He wasn't at a dinner honoring Jewish (or Italian or Russian or Hispanic) New Yorkers.

He was at an Irish event that he had been invited to. It was an event organized by the American Irish Historical Society, an organization that celebrates the Irish contribution to America.

I'm sure the Mayor was comfortable at such a relaxed occasion and assessed the gathering as successful, confident people proud of their Irish heritage, secure enough to take a little ribbing from someone they all know respects them. Unfortunately he was wrong.

John Dunleavy, Chairman of the St. Patrick's Day Parade, said Bloomberg, "wouldn't make a joke about any other ethnic group." You know what? Dunleavy might well be right, but so what? Bloomberg's blooper merely shows that he thought (a) the Irish could take it because their success belies the basis of the stereotype and (b) that the audience in front of him would know he meant nothing malicious.

It would have been far better had Dunleavy or someone else in the audience responded in that witty, sarcastic manner that is (or used to be?) our stock in trade.

The college I went to was almost evenly split between the Irish and Italians. We used to say all sorts of things to each other, the types of things that would probably have you in front of an anti-bullying tribunal today. But none of it was real. It didn't mean a thing and didn't stop us being friends. Good friends. Best man at each others' weddings sort of friends. It was only fun and we all knew it.

When I worked downtown I used to engage in this sort of banter with Jewish colleagues. I loved it there too, even though it was a little different than it was with my Italian college friends.

It is an aspect of life in Ireland that I miss about life in New York: this good-natured ethnic give and take among friends, colleagues and peers.

The Jews and the Irish in New York have been rubbing up against each for 150+ years, from the stinking ghettos all the way to the top of New York's business, legal, financial and political spheres. Sure there has been aggravation and bad blood between them at times, but today the two groups look eye-to-eye at one another at the top of the pile. It's a relationship of equals, which is why Bloomberg would feel he could make such a joke at the expense of the Irish.

I have to admit I'm not a big fan of the Mayor. He's too much of an old fussbudget for me. I would normally be be happy to see him brought down a peg, especially slipping on an Irish banana skin.

Yet the reaction to the Mayor's little joke doesn't make me happy at all. Actually it makes me a bit sad to think that these little jokes are no longer 'allowed' in New York.

The Mayor's transgression was less than Ronan Tynan's (not knowing his audience) and I thought the reaction to him was far too severe. New Yorkers used to have a thicker skin, but nowadays everyone's too darn sensitive. It's time to toughen up and that includes the Irish.

{Photo: Mayor Bloomberg at the unveiling Ireland's national monument to the Fighting 69th in Ballymote, Co. Sligo in 2006.}

Monday, February 7, 2011

Where's Enda? - new strategy in Irish campaign

There are still 18 days left until the people of Ireland vote for a new government, but as political campaigns go the one being run by the leader of the favorite party to lead the next government is unique. Unique to me, anyway.

Enda Kenny is the leader of the Fine Gael party and they are odds on favorites to lead the next coalition government. If they win as expected there will be volumes written about Kenny's "hide and seek" strategy.

You see, Kenny {photo} is almost unseen in this campaign. In the weeks before the election was called it was as if he'd taken a vow of silence and joined an order of cloistered monks so rarely was he seen or heard. Day after day those who serve under him were on the tv and the radio railing against the government, calling for an election and promoting Fine Gael's policies.

Kenny was nowhere. He spoke in the Dáil (parliament) on the day it was dissolved and then vanished again.

The more Kenny hid the more media sought him. They looked for him here and he was there. They looked for him there and he was here.

Last week one of Ireland's television channels - TV3 - announced that it was going to host a 3-way debate (tomorrow/Tuesday night) featuring Kenny and the leaders of the two other biggest parties. Kenny announced he was not going to take part, but he had a new excuse each day: (1) he wanted the other two smaller parties involved; (2) he didn't like that the moderator of the debate - Vincent Browne - had last year made a flippant remark about suicide when he implied Kenny should fall on his sword; (3) he was too busy.

Kenny did offer to take part in a 5-way debate next week, probably in the hope that nobody would notice if he said nothing as the other four competed to be heard above the cacophony.

Amazingly, Kenny's strategy may well be paying off. His party is up in the latest polls, which indicates the public is happy to vote for Kenny and his party so long as they are spared having to listen to him.

Kenny has a happy smiling face, one that goes on well on posters, newspaper front pages (babies a bonus) and still shots on tv. Why would he want to spoil that happy image by answering questions from the media, questions that are sure to be depressing.

Why would Kenny want to provide an answer to: "What would you do to get us out from under this overwhelming burden of bankers' debts that the last government and the EU/ECB have heaped upon Ireland's taxpayers?" No matter what the answer is, it can only be bad. Too much of a downer to say anything. Better to leave 'em guessing seems to be his ploy.

Of course all of this media avoidance has made Kenny something of a laughingstock. #WheresEnda has been a trending topic on Twitter for a week or more. Sightings of Kenny were reported breathlessly as if a Sasquatch was spotted in a suburban shopping mall.

Mark Twain once said, "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." Enda Kenny seems to have adopted that as his campaign strategy. If Fine Gael romps home on February 25 Kenny may well have written a new chapter in the "How to campaign successfully" book.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Irish media's conspiracy of silence on Jihad Jane

Colleen LaRose (aka Jihad Jane) pleaded guilty on Tuesday in a Pennsylvania court. Among the charges LaRose pleaded guilty to are conspiracy to murder a foreign target and conspiracy to support terrorists.

The word conspiracy interests me greatly because conspiracy implies more than one person and every single person she allegedly conspired with was (is?) living in Ireland at the time. LaRose apparently conspired to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Viks, who offended Muslims with his portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed as a dog.

International conspiracy. Jihad. Murder. Guilty. Ireland.

You'd imagine that the Irish media would be all over this one, right? Well, you would be wrong.

The national television and radio service, RTE, has avoided the topic completely, as far as I can tell. I haven't heard it mentioned nor seen it on their web site. The two main newspapers, Irish Independent and Irish Times, have published brief wire service articles about LaRose changing her plea, but with no details on the story's connection to Ireland.

It's almost like there's a conspiracy in the Irish media, a conspiracy of silence on this international terrorist conspiracy based in Ireland.

The story broke in March of last year when seven people were arrested in Counties Waterford and Cork, although five were almost immediately released. Among those five was American Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, who was arrested upon her return to America.

You'd imagine the media might be just a tad interested in this angle. Two American women arrived in this country just as any other tourists from America do, only these two were (allegedly in Paulin-Ramirez's case) intent on meeting up with one or more other people based here with the intent of carrying out a terrorist attack.

LaRose faces life in prison for the crimes for which she's been convicted; Paulin-Ramirez could spend 15 years in prison if she's convicted.

These are serious crimes. Yet the Irish media hasn't mentioned it other than those few sentences that add nothing to what you'd have might have heard on a news bulletin from CNN.

No mention of Paulin-Ramirez's husband, Ali Charaf Damache, alleged contact for LaRose before she left America and who, as far as I can tell, last made the news here back in May when he was "sent forward for trial" in Waterford District Court.

No mention of Waterford or Cork for that matter, despite the fact the original arrests were made there. Also, no further mention of Imam Ali Al-Saleh and his view expressed last spring that Ireland is a hotbed of Islamic extremism.

No mention at all. It's as of it is all just one of those things that happened somewhere else. Only it didn't. It happened here and they came here for a reason, but nobody seems all that interested in understanding why.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ireland needs a new name

I was reading John Spain's column (here) and it occurred to me that really, we should change our name. Ireland should change its name. We should go into the nearest court and legally change the name of the country.

We should change the name of the country for so long as we're not an independent nation, but one that is in hock to the EU and IMF (mostly the EU). The so-called 'bailout' fund of €85bn ($117bn) that Ireland received from the EU/IMF back in November is no gift. It's a loan. One that has to be paid back. With interest. At a punitive interest rate.

The bailout is intended to ensure that the Irish people pay all the debts stupidly/recklessly incurred by Irish banks, who borrowed the money from stupid and reckless German banks. Yes, we are debt slaves who are being whipped into line by our EU masters in order to save the European banks. We are slaves or vassals as one Irish member said in the European Parliament recently.

So we should change our name to reflect our new status and, maybe only vaguely, to decouple the name Ireland from the mess our leaders got us into.

There is precedence for this. Back in the 1990s recording star Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol {Photo} as the first step to his "ultimate goal of emancipation from the chains that bind me to Warner Brothers" when he was in dispute with the record company over control over his music and money.

Unlike Prince, who changed his name in an effort to emphasize that he was not the record company's slave, I think Ireland should change its name to do just the opposite: to ensure everyone knows we are slaves. Vassals of the EU.

So we should change our name to emphasize our new position as vassals, but to what?

I'm particularly drawn to EU-85. We owe €85bn after all. Or, now that Mr. Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals is no longer using it, how about EU-Ochocinco? It's got a modern, hip sound, possibly too cool for a nation of vassals, but it also has that multi-lingual, EU feel that our slave masters are so keen on. And it beautifully sums up who we are today.

I can already see it at the airport: 100,000 welcomes to EU-Ochocinco.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

American founders' slogan abused in Irish voting rights debate

We're having an election. It was supposed to be on March 11, but the Irish government couldn't even hold on that long and now election day looks like it will be February 25. Unfortunately for all those thousands of (mostly young) Irish who have been forced to leave Ireland and seek work elsewhere, the election will not include them. They are ineligible to vote.

I was listening to a news program last week, one that features a weekly slot with American (right wing) talk show host Michael Graham. When Graham innocently asked how Ireland's emigrants would vote in the upcoming election, he was shocked to learn that they have no vote. Graham noted that America allows its citizens abroad to vote by mail and that in his town - near Boston - they recently had a large news item about all the Brazilians voting there in Brazil's election. How could Ireland not offer the same to its citizens?

It's true, however. Ireland is just about the only democracy that doesn't allow its citizens abroad to vote. For Pete's sake it is only two weeks ago that stories about Sudanese emigrants voting in their recent referendum were featured in local papers across America and throughout the world. Sudan! If Sudan can afford - monetarily and politically - to allow its citizens outside the country to vote why can't Ireland? {Photo - Rwandan woman voting at her country's embassy in Sweden.}

There's a lot of focus in Ireland right now on how the foreign media is portraying the country in the current political crisis. Sure the Irish government is making a mess and the media is paying a lot of attention, but we all know that this will blow over. All countries go through some political upheaval at times, but the rule of law and democracy are not threatened. It's a soon-to-be-forgotten media firestorm.

Far more embarrassing, but less widely known is that Ireland disenfranchises those who choose or are compelled to move away.

Many of those who oppose emigrant voting rights are extremely smug. They dismiss the rights of Irish citizens who live outside Ireland. They say that when you leave you have no right to have a say in how the country is run.

Their most repeated argument is that if you don't pay taxes you shouldn't get to vote, equating citizen with taxpayer. What really annoys me is that they misquote and abuse a slogan of the American revolution in making their case. "No representation without taxation" they claim, sometimes even invoking America's founders as they do so.

As all Americans know full well, the slogan is "No taxation without representation," which is a perfectly reasonable argument by any democrat. The other is a perfectly reasonable argument by someone who is arrogant, uncaring and undemocratic with a secure job and no worries about having to leave the country and who doesn't give a fiddler's curse about those who do.

{You can sign an online petition here to protest against this denial of citizens' democratic rights.}